A Disability-Friendly Digital World

Improving and "teching-out" prosthetics could be one of the keys to creating a bionic future. Artificial hands and arms could one day be as good as (or even better than) the flesh and bone ones most of us are born with. But existing prosthetic technology is still lacking, especially when it comes to the fine movements required to manipulate today's digital technology.

That may soon change, though, as a team in Germany is working on a way to connect prostheses to digital actions through a wearable device called Shortcut.

The device allows people with prosthetics to manipulate a digital cursor using a current technology called myoelectric prostheses, or Myo. That tech takes advantage of the "phantom hand" phenomenon by capturing signals being sent to the muscles of a missing hand, determining what movement the wearer is attempting to make, and commanding the prosthetic to act accordingly.

This same principle is at work in Shortcut. The wearable device consists of a small circuitboard, an optic sensor, Bluetooth, and a battery. When the user moves the watch-like device around over a desk or table, the optic sensor moves the cursor on the screen, just like a regular mouse would. The Myo technology can then interpret the wearer's attempted gestures into digital actions. For example, attempting to pinch together the thumb and index finger results in a click of the mouse, pinching the thumb and middle finger right clicks, and so on.

 The Future's Just A Click Away

This development would allow people with disabilities to more easily work with laptops, computers, and the like. Even if a person was desk-bound, they could still work in an office setting, literally transforming the day-to-day lives of many PWDs.

Even more than that, though, this new device offers just one more example of how technology is completely reshaping how we interact with the world. Similar to how cellphones changed how we communicate, the tech behind Shortcut could revolutionize a major aspect of society: the way we manipulate the digital world. Will computer mice be the landlines of the future? Only time will tell.

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